The Borderlands Local History Project of El Paso Community College has a tribute to Olivas Aoy, a relatively unknown Latter-day Saint who made important contributions to education in El Paso. Brother Aoy was born in Spain in 1823 and traveled to Cuba and then to the Yucatan Peninsula, where he lived with the Mayans for a time, learning their language and seeking knowledge. He came to the southwest and joined the Latter-day Saints in 1873. An excerpt from the story follows:
In 1887, Aoy found himself in El Paso, where he dedicated himself to teach children unable to speak English who were being ignored by the city’s fledgling public schools. Historian C. L. Sonnichsen writes that he rented an old building behind Dan Reckhart’s assay office on San Francisco Street in downtown El Paso for $5 a month. He furnished the rooms himself with seats and blackboards and bought books for the needy children in the neighborhood.
Besides teaching his students English, writing and arithmetic, Aoy included music, calisthenics, manners, patriotism and the love of God. Moreover, he provided them with food, clothing and medicine, all out of his own scant resources. He was the original counselor: he listened to his students’ problems, and he helped them find jobs. By 1890, Aoy had 65 students, one-third of them girls. To help pay for his school, he taught Spanish to American adults at night. He had discovered his true calling.
There is also evidence that he assisted with the translation of the Book of Mormon to Spanish.
The quiet life of Olivas Aoy is a reminder of the contributions Christians can make to the world as we follow the Gospel and seek to do good wherever we are.